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5 Ways to Remain Ethical in the Music Industry:  Q&A Session

by Vaughn Edward

February 1, 2019

How do you mainly work within ethics in today's musical industry? Has it been problematic for you so far?




It all boils down to this. If you have received something, give something back. If you have been helped, help somebody else. If you are striving for something in your life, reach for the top, and do so without trampling on others or setting them back. Do what needs to be done in order to conquer your goals, but do so without compromising yourself. We can all bend, but not to the point that it breaks us.

1. For downloading and streaming music, or for performing artists, I believe in paying a fair share to artists. Musicians go through some of the roughest times, living on pennies and nickels, and most people have no idea what that road is like. Many artists have spent thousands of hours practicing their music, buying equipment and traveling thousands of miles, making people happy in the moments that they perform, only to make a few dollars to survive. It can be a ruthless road at times for musicians.

With that said, give to the musician/artist when possible. If you are a musician/artist, give to others in your field. Support them, and encourage them. We are all in this together, musician or not. Music makes the world go round in such a way, that it annihilates the heavy and bombastic energies in the air when things are bad in the world. Without music, everybody's lives, the events they throw, the parties they have, the celebrations they gather at, and the personal "me" times each and everyone of us have, would all be much tougher to deal with.

Pay the musician or artist for their work. They certainly do deserve it.

2. If it is about copyright and use of lyrics and melodies, the musician has to be as honest as possible. At any given time, I have multiple melodies in my head. They are my melodies.

However, every single musician has always borrowed from previous musicians. Music is learned by listening to other musicians. We absorb from everything in order to make an original of ourselves. Once, I was working on a melody for an original song, and I was playing it on the keyboard. A friend of mine walked in and listened for a bit and said, "That sounds familiar." I shook my head and said, "How? It's my own melody. I've been whistling this since I woke up."

He pulled out his laptop and finally found a song that had a similar melody. I rolled my eyes and said, "How did that happen? I've never even heard that song before, or at least been conscious of it, if it had played in the background somewhere." Ultimately, I scratched the melody I was working on and began working on something new. It's hard at times with things like this. I hear thousands of melodies and riffs, and my brain stores them all, and it organizes them into new things.

I have a Pop song with electronics, "Ghost In The Night". The chord changes on the Verses stemmed off of the jazz tune, "Autumn Leaves". However, I simplified the chords so much and twisted them around, that is completely different now. I did add tribute to Autumn Leaves by stating in my 2nd Verse, "The leaves were falling..."

If, as a musician, you take from another musician, and you make it your own, give some kind of credit to that other person. That other person inspired you enough to write something of your own. The ethical thing is to give back to them in some way.

3. For lyrics and songs that are radio-ready and compliant, the musician has to weigh out what he or she is willing to give up as an artist. I've written a couple of rap songs, and I am writing a third now. The first two songs, I made radio-ready, no curse words. They didn't need it anyway. The riffs and melodies and rhymes on my song, "The Wild Ones", carries itself enough without cursing. However, this new song I am working on is very personal to me. In one part, it almost asks itself to have one curse word, just for the effect.

I am still weighing it out, because if I put it in, the song cannot be played on air. If I do add the word in, I feel it is more powerful. What to do? It is decisions like this that have to be made, because of the ethics in society. I am leaning on leaving it out and possibly finding a suitable substitute that is nearly as powerful. Or, I may just record two versions, one for radio, and one for album.

4. As for "sex, drugs and rock 'n roll", I believe that the public, not the musicians, coined this. Surely, this type of behavior does happen a lot in the music industry. However, we have to realize that people are rebelling in every way to the norms of society. They want to escape the parameters that have been placed upon them.


Music gives the musician and the listener that feeling of escape. With that, however, comes the chaos of being unleashed into a world where no boundaries exist. That is what music does for us. When we find ourselves so free, many can't handle so much freedom in the moment. That is where the drugs comes in. I once played a Reggae & Ska fest in North Carolina along the beach. That night, the lead singer was drunk, the 2nd guitar was coked up, and the drummer was high. I was completely sober, playing sax. It was a fun night, but the music surely wasn't as stable as it could have been.


What to do? It's something we just have to shrug off our shoulders and go about our day happily. And in the future, if that is something we do not want on our gigs, we have to find musicians to work with who will remain sober, for the sake of the music.


5. Pay to play, at bars and nightclubs. This type of performance is more prevalent in the millenium. It keeps the clubs at a safe level, so that they do not bankrupt themselves, but it stretches the pockets of those musicians whose pockets are already hanging low.


Nowadays, kids and teens, and even some seasoned musicians are thirsting to play so badly, that they enter into the stream of pay-to-play. What this means, is that they front the payment of how many people should be attending, in ticket sales. If they go over their allotted ticket sales, then they may make some money back.


However, if the musicians or bands are always entering into this type of scenario, it is much harder for them to get ahead. In the old days, a band was just hired to play. They were paid by the club owners to do a job. They made people happy. People bought drinks. The band was paid. The band came back the next week, or the next month, to do another job.


The industry has changed so much, that the younger generation, as well as most everyone else, has to first pay up, before they can do their job. Ethically speaking, it seems a bit backward. If you have to do this type of performance, do it a few times, but not as a regular habit. Find other outlets to perform. Put your music out there in the world, on the internet. If you search for another route, one will surely pop up. Do not be satisfied with the one you are walking on, if it is not up to your standard. 

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